Launch of national campaign to petition Yang di Pertuan Agong to withhold Royal Assent for the National Service Training Bill to force it back to both Houses of Parliament for more rounded consideration and fuller national consultation and debate
- Perak DAP forum on National Service Training Bill
by Lim Kit Siang
(Ipoh, Friday): When Tan Sri Dr. Abdul Hamid Pawanteh was appointed the new president of Dewan Negara on Monday, he pledged to rid the Senate of its “rubber stamp” image, but his first week as the head of the Upper House had not changed a whit its ingrained role as the “mother of all rubber stamps” in Malaysia!
This is best illustrated by the Dewan Negara rubber-stamping of the National Service Training Bill on Tuesday although the Senate was “in the dark” about the national service programme, as admitted by the Deputy Defence Minister Datuk Mohd Shafie Apdal in the winding-up of the debate on the bill.
As reported by the New Straits Times (9.7.03), Mohd Shafie “said the ministry took note of the concerns raised by various senators that many were still in the dark about the programme” and that a major awareness campaign in the media on the National Service will be conducted nationwide soon!
It is sad that neither Mohd Shafie nor the Senators had realized the irony and idiocy of what the Dewan Negara had done.
The question Malaysians are entitled to ask is how could Senators be so irresponsible to rubber-stamp the passage of the National Service Training Bill and abdicate their oath of office “to discharge their parliamentary duties to the best of their ability” when “many were still in the dark about the programme”?
A responsible, conscientious and useful Dewan Negara would only vote to pass a new bill, particularly one which involves an initial outlay of RM500 million involving 100,000 18-year-olds but which could affect seven million Malaysians between the ages of 16 to 35 (and which would then involve public expenditures running into tens of billions of ringgit), when they have fully understood its purpose, contents and implications – not when it was “still in the dark” about its intentions and programmes.
By voting to approve the National Service Training Bill when “many were still in the dark about the programme”, the Dewan Negara has confirmed that it is the “mother of all rubber stamps” despite having a new president who pledged to change its rubber-stamp image!
Launching “a major awareness campaign” on the National Service among the people after the bill had been passed by both Houses of Parliament is putting the cart before the horse, when the government should have launched the major awareness campaign among Members of Parliament from Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara before the passage of the Bill!
But this disease of giving support although “still in the dark” about its contents is quite prevalent in Malaysia – with the leaders and representatives of 26 Chinese organizations furnishing another example when they were led by the MCA President, Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting to meet the Defence Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak on the national service programme last Friday.
After the dialogue, the Chinese organization leaders expressed full backing and pledged their support for the national service programme, although they also asked the government to announce as early as possible the full details of the national service programme to eliminate existing misunderstandings – another example of giving support to a programme while “still in the dark”!
Najib and Ong Ka Ting have turned participatory democracy upside down – as the vital pre-condition of prior consultation before any law is passed in a participatory democracy had degenerated into post consultation after the act is done where the operation is more a public relations exercise instead of inviting public participation and input to influence the final product of a proposed legislation.
Although the National Service Training Bill had passed both the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara, its many flaws whether of conception, formulation and contents, have not been cured or rectified. It remains a badly drafted, half-baked hotch-potch of provisions as it was largely an unthinking “copy and paste” job from the colonial 1952 National Service Act, when the rationale and purposes of the two pieces of legislation are completely different!
For this reason, the public forum on the National Service Training Bill in Ipoh tonight marks the launch of a national campaign to petition the Yang di Pertuan Agong to withhold Royal Assent for the National Service Training Bill to force it back to both Houses of Parliament for more rounded consideration and fuller national consultation and debate.
I am glad that there is unanimous support from a show of hands at the forum tonight for such a nation-wide campaign, and the DAP MP for Batu Gajah, Fong Po Kuan, will be the chairperson of the campaign to petition the Yang di Pertuan Agong to withhold Royal Assent for the National Service Training Bill to allow for more rounded consideration and fuller national consultation and debate on the issue.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman